Posts Tagged ‘Alice Nkom’

Gays and a London magazine

December 12, 2012

In the next few weeks/months (whenever I feel like it) I’m going to write some occasional comments on a magazine I used to write for. It’s a monthly called New African that offers the reader a combination of pure journalism and seriously agenda-driven writing. Making the distinction between the two can be difficult, although in this case, it’s not. Alright, here goes. 

 

New African’s editor Baffour Ankomah has decided to add a new dimension to the magazine’s tradition of heaping praise on some (not all) violent power grabbers like Charles Taylor and Robert Mugabe. In February this year, Ankomah wrote another one of his popular editorial commentaries, known as Baffour’s Beefs. Beefs has two key stylistic elements: it uses a lot of words and takes forever to get to the point. But there is never any mistaking of the target of his rhetorical long-distance arrows. This time it was gays.

Mind you, the targets are always arrived at by way of others, in this case David Cameron, the UK prime minister. Cameron said earlier this year that he was making aid disbursement contingent on African nations showing respect for (among others) gay rights. (You know my view on aid so we’ll leave that issue to one side for now.)

Beefs asked the question why Cameron ties giving aid to promoting something that ‘affronts the innate values of the African…’ This is a nasty little rhetorical trick he uses on occasion, to great effect. In this case, the implication was crystal-clear: molesting a gay man or a lesbian is akin to socking it to The White Man, who, and this is an important subtext to a lot of New African’s output, is racist, colonial…let’s say: Not A Very Nice Person. The writer carefully offers an extraordinarily mealy-mouthed ‘That however does not mean that we should persecute gays, as in Uganda or Malawi….’ but the point that gays are fair game has been made and will be repeated later.

In December, to be precise. Subject matter of Beefs this time: who will be the new Head of the Church of England? One main contender was John Sentamu, with whom Ankomah has a long-standing feud, originating in the former’s criticism and the latter’s starry-eyed admiration of Zimbabwean president Robert Gabriel Mugabe. Comrade Bob, like a true born African, does not like gays either.

So: why did Sentamu not become the new Head of the Church of England? We’re hundreds of words into Beefs when the cat finally comes out of the bag: Sentamu is against gay marriage. That is why he did not get the job. You see, white men are not only Not Very Nice – they also shag each other. And here, Ankomah uses his trick again: Sentamu remembered that ‘…he was African after all…’, hence his anti-gay and gay marriage stance. Oh really?

Early 2011, I had the pleasure of interviewing the long-serving Cameroonian lawyer Alice Nkom, the first African woman ever to have been called to the bar in her country and a tireless campaigner for the rights of her compatriots (my radio report is the bottom link on this page). She famously defended the late crusading journalist and fellow citizen Pius Njawe. Equally famously, she defends the rights of sexual minorities in her country, where a widespread theory circulates that claims the French colonizers only granted independence once they were sure their successors were all gay… Back on Planet Earth, here’s a lengthy quote from my interview with Maître Nkom. Read this slowly.

‘Homosexuality is un-African? No, homophobia is un-African. It has entered the continent in tandem with two imported religions: Christianity and Islam. The most important value of our Constitution is the equality of all people in terms of rights and obligations. This means that regardless of my sexual orientation or my religion I have the same rights to protection of my home and my private life, as everyone else. In consequence, whatever I get up to in my home, in my bedroom, is my affair and mine alone and as long as I don’t call the police because there is danger, absolutely no-one has the right to come and disturb my peace. So when I defend the rights of sexual minorities I am following to the letter the constitution of Cameroon and I am helping the president to guarantee the constitutional rights of all.’

Maître Nkom later added that the persecution of sexual minorities, apart from being unconstitutional, also targets the poorest people in society. ‘I find that personally hurtful and it goes against all the values I have been inculcated with since childhood.’

A lawyer I will never be but I reckon it is appropriate to end here with a simple: I rest my case.

There are more interesting features adorning New African, such as its unwavering support for certain autocrats, its animosity towards the International Criminal Court and, of course, Europe. That’s for some other time.